I am a 19 year old woman and like any 19 year old, I would like to be in a relationship. I want to be in a relationship with that special someone who I feel attracted to. I want to have a loving trusting relationship with someone who loves me for me.

But for me, this can be difficult. I would like to highlight the barriers for me and others with learning disabilities.

One of the main problems is the lack of opportunities to meet people socially. The only time I get to meet boys my age is at school and some social clubs, however these opportunities are nearly always supervised.  

How would you feel if you were trying to talk to someone you fancied and you were being constantly watched?

People who don’t know me focus on my learning disability, not who I am, they don’t see past my disability.

People with a learning disability sometimes can have a different understanding of what is a relationship is, they sometimes confuse being best friends as partners. This is mainly due to a lack of support to understand the difference.  It is also due to seeing other people without a learning disability hugging, kissing and hold hands and they think that is all that it is to it.

Sometimes parents can be a barrier too. I am very lucky that I have two understanding parents that are here with me today and I know I can openly ask questions about sex and relationships and they understand my desire to have a relationship too.

However, not everybody has that support. And I know other people with a learning disability who have parents that are over protective and worries and fear that their sons or daughters are hurt or taken advantage of. Love is a risk for everyone and sometimes you have to take chances.

I do know there are some risks. Particularly in online dating and social media, as people with a learning disability are more trusting and that can make us more at risk. I am aware of the risks of meeting strangers as you don’t know who the person is behind the screen, but not everyone with a learning disability is and too many times we hear of people meeting strangers in unsafe places in unsafe situations.

I don’t just want to talk about the barriers but I want to provide you with my suggestions for ideas and solutions to these barriers. I became an ambassador to help people with learning disabilities. So although there are many negatives, there is positive learning we can take from friends and my experience of informed choices about relationships for people with learning disabilities.

We need to work together to increase opportunities for people with a learning disability to develop safe and trusting relationships. 

This could be in the form of funding towards new social clubs in the community where people have the opportunity to me and safely form relationships whilst being trusted by the leaders of the club. 

Nexus delivered training to me and my class mates about sex education and relationships this year, however I feel it needs to start from the age of 12 upwards so we can understand from an earlier age about relationships. This training needs to be standard in all special education schools as it is in mainstream schools.

This needs to include e-safety as more and more people are looking at online dating as there is little other opportunities available.

More awareness needs to be taught in mainstream schools so that they have an understanding of the issues and barriers that people with a learning disability face. This would help with the issues around bullying towards people with a learning disability just because we are slightly different.

Don’t dismiss us because we have a learning disability, we want to be loved and live as independently as possible, we just need the right support  and opportunities to be able to achieve this.